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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Discomfort at Glendale’s ‘Comfort Women’

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Japanese-Americans have taken legal action to remove a monument in Glendale that admonishes Japan for forcing Korean women into sexual slavery during World War II.

Michiko Shiota Gingery, Koichi Mera and nonprofit organization GAHT-US want to enjoin the City of Glendale and City Manager Scott Ochoa from displaying the 1,100-pound bronze statue in Central Park.

The monument, depicting a young girl sitting next to an empty chair with a bird on her shoulder, is accompanied by a plaque that condemns Japan for avoiding responsibility for the abduction of more than 200,000 women during the 1930s and '40s, including young women and teenagers.

Only 55 of the women lured into slavery and prostitution during the colonization of the Korean peninsula are alive today. The women were forced into brothels where they were prostituted at "comfort women" for up to 50 men a day.

The plaque urges Japan to "accept historical responsibility for these crimes," and laments the "unconscionable violations of human rights."

Though Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono apologized in 1993 for his country's involvement, the Japanese government has resisted calls for direct compensation to the victims.

That stance continues to agitate South Korea, which wants an official apology. Gingery's federal lawsuit claims that the Glendale monument, approved 4-1 by the City Council in July 2013, "infringes upon the federal government's power to exclusively conduct the foreign affairs of the United States."

Gingery claims that the monument "threatens to negatively affect U.S. foreign relations with Japan, one of this nation's most important allies, and is inconsistent with the foreign policy of the United States."

It is difficult to see how the lawsuit could survive on constitutional grounds. It essentially urges the United States, and by extension its municipalities, to stay out of what the filing characterizes as an ongoing "debate," rather than established fact.

"The proper historical characterization of the events in issue and the precise role of national governments in those acts have been the subject of discussions and negotiations between the governments of Japan and South Korea for decades, and remain an active topic of political debate," the 17-page lawsuit states.

Before the plaque's unveiling last summer, the city kept its text secret, despite opposition to the monument from Japan, Gingery says.

According to The Los Angeles Times, emails to city officials claimed the council was wilting in the face of "anti-Japan propaganda," and dismissed the Korean victims as "liars" and willing prostitutes.

Last year, Japanese's conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he was "extremely dissatisfied" with the city's decision to erect the statue and plaque, according to the complaint.

Gingery says the United States has done all it can to avoid becoming "embroiled in the contentious historical debate concerning comfort women between its two most important East Asian allies."

Glendale Mayor Dave Weaver voted against the monument and later wrote that the city was wrong to erect it, and "should not be involved on either side," according to the lawsuit.

A petition urging removal of the monument, at President's Barack Obama's website, received more than 108,000 signatures, according to Gingery.

She alleges unconstitutional interference with foreign affairs, and violation of Glendale's Municipal Code.

The plaintiffs are represented by Neil Soltman of Mayer Brown.

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